Background Briefing

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II.        Contribution to maintaining peace and security in Ituri

The rapid restoration of the judicial system in Bunia was required as a logical consequence of the mandate of the “Interim Emergency Multinational Force” (the “Artemis force”) deployed in Bunia by the European Union between June and September 2003 with the authorization of the U.N. Security Council.4  In their normal policing activities, the troops of the Artemis force – and, subsequently, those of the Mission of the United Nations to the Congo (MONUC) – arrested individuals who had committed acts of violence or who had defied their authority.  Among those arrested were leaders of armed groups responsible for the crimes that characterized the conflict in Ituri.  However, in the absence of courts and judges5, the individuals arrested were sometimes released immediately. In the eyes of the local population, this seriously damaged the credibility of the operations by the Artemis force and MONUC to restore security and maintain peace.  Therefore, it seemed necessary to restore the judicial system in Bunia as a matter of urgency.

The restoration of the judicial system in Ituri also addressed the need for complementing and supporting the process of reconciliation, which had been started at the grass roots level in September 2003 by Hema and Lendu communities weary of inter-ethnic conflict.  Community leaders in rural towns and villages affected by ethnic conflicts regularly organized dialogues.  The prolonged absence of justice risked hindering these efforts and encouraging the use of more violent means of settling conflicts.

To address this issue, a memorandum of understanding was proposed by the European Union and signed on December 16, 2003, by the government of the DRC, the European Commission, and the French Cooperation (“Memorandum of Understanding”).  It defined the tasks to be carried out by each of the parties involved and MONUC.6  The European Commission was to contribute support and funding for the deployment of investigative judges and judicial personnel, their salaries and training, and the supply of operational materials.  MONUC agreed to provide transportation for judicial personnel and all necessary assistance relating to the security of judges and individuals involved in the judicial process.  The reconstruction odicial process. in vol the secuirnt of magistrates and judicial personnel, their salaries and training, and the supplif the court buildings, the investigative judges’ offices, and the prison facilities was to be handled by the French Cooperation.

Since implementation of the program began at the end of January 2004, it has had some notable successes.  Its deterrent effect was felt immediately as the first investigative judges arrived in Ituri.  Many people have testified to the impact that the arrival of the investigative judges had on the attitude of members of armed groups.7  The intensity of the criminal activities of these groups decreased significantly over the months following the first indictments.

The first prosecutions launched by the new prosecutor of the court (“the prosecutor”) included cases against notorious leaders of armed groups, among them Matthieu Ngunjolo, Chief of Staff of the FNI (Front des Nationalistes Intégrationnistes – a Lendu armed group), and Aimable Rafiki Saba, Head of Military Intelligence of the UPC (Union des Patriotes Congolais – a mainly Hema armed group).8  In total, some thirty leaders of armed groups were arrested, and some of them have already been referred to presiding investigative judges.  This made an enormous contribution to the slow but gradual normalization of security conditions in Ituri, despite the fact that these individuals were generally arrested or prosecuted for more minor offences, rather than for the serious crimes in which they had been involved.  The investigative judges themselves stated that they have noticed an attitude of growing respect for the judicial system since the first indictments.9  When speaking about the leaders of the armed groups, one of them stated that, from now on, “nobody can do things as openly as they could before we arrived.”10

The first court hearings for some of these leaders in April 2004 took place in a particularly tense atmosphere.  Militia fighters were demonstrating noisily outside the court building in Bunia.  They were chanting slogans hostile to the judges and MONUC, with the apparent aim of intimidating court officials and potential witnesses.  In the case against Matthieu Ngunjolo, for example, supporters of the FNI openly demonstrated their allegiance by standing to attention when he entered the courtroom.  The judges, however, were able to impose discipline inside the courtroom.  Officials interviewed by Human Rights Watch emphasized the control that the president of the Tribunal de grande instance had over the courtroom to restore discipline and respect for the judicial system during the hearings.11

The local population saw the detention of leaders of local armed groups and their subsequent appearance before the court as a highly significant demonstration of the positive change that the judicial system can bring about, particularly after its past negative contribution to exacerbating the conflict in Ituri.12  Trust in the judicial system is gradually being restored.  According to one investigative judge, an increasing number of people are now coming forward and offering to testify anonymously.

This renewed confidence in the judicial system and the virtues of the constitutional state is seen by local observers as the program’s greatest achievement.  The judges appear to be aware of their personal contribution and the historic nature of their role.  One of them stated: “We are aware that our conduct will determine the course of justice in the rest of the country.”13

[4] Security Council Resolution 1484 (2003), authorizing deployment, under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter, of a temporary multinational emergency force in Bunia “with a view to contributing to stabilizing the security conditions there, and improving the humanitarian situation.”

[5] The five years of violent conflict in Ituri had led to the total collapse of the judicial system, which was already in worse condition than elsewhere in the country.  See “Democratic Republic of Congo: Confronting Impunity,” Human Rights Watch Briefing Paper, January 2004.

[6] MONUC did not sign the Memorandum of Understanding, but took part in the negotiation of its terms, and it has specific obligations under the memorandum.

[7] Human Rights Watch interviews with civil society groups in Bunia, May 2004.

[8] Ngunjolo was prosecuted, among other charges, for the disappearance of a leader of the UPC.  Rafiki is being prosecuted on various charges, including organized crime, arbitrary arrest, and unlawful detention.

[9] Human Rights Watch interviews with a group of investigative judges from the Prosecutor’s Office in Bunia, May 8, 2004.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Human Rights Watch interviews in Bunia, May 2004.

[12] A case about a land dispute in which judges were suspected of corruption is said to have been one of the elements that triggered the conflict in Ituri in 1999.

[13] Human Rights Watch interviews with the president of the Tribunal de grande instance, Bunia, May 7, 2004.

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